I remember the city of Belfast when it was filled with strife and the â€œTroubles,â€ a time when my da convinced the local authorities he was an American tourist and not the man they were looking for by pointing to his Made in the USA sneakers.
And when my beautiful mum went to buy some lace and minutes after she left the shop, the street was blown up. Another time we found ourselves stuck at a checkpoint behind a horse and wagon, and later on we feasted on the best breaded chicken dinner Iâ€™ve ever had.
Horse and wagon in Northern Ireland
This wasIrelandon a cloudy day when the air was heavy with the smell of the earth fresh from the rain, when the blanket of green covering the land was so bright it made your eyes hurt. And when the wildflowers I picked made me think of sweet kisses from the handsome lad whoâ€™d winked at me.
Belfastwas where the Titanic was born.
Letâ€™s go back to 1907 and a time when Katie Oâ€™Reilly, the heroine in my novel,Titanic Rhapsody,was fourteen years old and living with her da and mum and her older sister, Mary Dolores, near Queenstown in Southern Ireland.
She was filled with curiosity and yearned for a better life, which often got her into trouble with the local sisters at the Catholic school.
Now mind you, this was a time when more than a million people a year emigrated from Europe to theUnited States. Before the great steamers made the crossing, the steerage or third class passengers had to bring their own food and spent the week-long journey in cramped, unsanitary quarters. Those lucky enough to get a breath of fresh air on the upper deck shared it with chickens in poultry coops.
You can be sure when the emigrants arrived inAmerica, they wrote to the folks back home:â€œSmelly, dirty trip on the ________ Line. Get a ticket on another ship.â€
But what if the emigrants raved about the crossing? Good, hot food at every meal that included oatmeal and currant buns. Clean cabins with running water and nary a chicken feather in sight. Can you imagine the stampede to book passage onthatship?
Lord Pirrie, chair of Harland and Wolff, major shipbuilders, did. According to the oft-told tale, the idea for Titanic and her sister ships came about over coffee and cigars in Lord Pirrieâ€™s fancyLondontown house. There he convinced J. Bruce Ismay, Chairman and Manager Director of the White Star Line, that he could buildtwoshipsâ€”the Olympic and the Titanic and later the Britannicâ€”bigger and more luxurious liners than his competitor, the Cunard Line, had. Ships that would hold more passengers and raise his companyâ€™s profits substantially.
He convinced Mr. Ismay he could also increase profits by catering to the society crowd traveling across the pond on a regular basis and doing the grand tour. They were willing to pay big bucks to be pampered as if they were staying in a fancy hotel.
Who could resist such an offer? A new era in trans-Atlantic passenger ships was born. New slipways were constructed inBelfastto build the Titanic and three thousand workers hired to get the task done (450 were injured and 17 died during the construction). By the end of March 1909, the keel was laid down and on May 31, 1911 the Titanic was launched at 12:15 p.m. with great fanfare. Tickets were sold to the public with all the money raised going to charity.
Now the real work began to get Titanic ready for the posh passengers and eager steerage emigrants who would marvel at her interiors and wander up and down her long corridors. Also, we canâ€™t forget the second class passengers, many of them tradesmen (including a perfume salesman whose sample bottles were retrieved from the wreckage) who relied on crossing theNorth Atlanticto keep their connections on the European continent current.
On April 2, 1912, the Titanic started a series of sea trials to prove her muster to carry passengers before she set sail on April 10, 2012 fromSouthampton.